By Avi Landau
MIZU GA AWANAI ( The water doesnt suit me) is an expression used by speakers of the Japanese language to express the feeling of not fitting in, or not feeling comfortable, living in a PARTICULAR PLACE. The notion that water is emblematic of place, harks back to the days when the people living in or visiting any one area would drink (or bathe in) the LOCAL WATER, which in Japan often has distinctive qualities.
Japan, a country very poor in most other natural resources, is rich in water- making the country perfect for rice cutivation- and bathing – two of the key features of Japanese culture. Unlike most other countries with a rainy season (monsoon), Japan has no dry season, and average annual precipitation (rain and snow) in this country is two times the world average.
Besides forming rivers along which human settlements could thrive, rain water and melted snow are absorbed into the earth and spring forth at various places (sometimes heated and often loaded with minerals), and this made it possible for villages to spring up and populations to grow, even when there were no major rivers nearby.
Compared to most other parts of Japan, the area on which the Tsukuba Science City was built is poor in water resources. I`m talking specifically about the highland (though it certainly isnt very high) between the Sakura River and the Kokai River, which could NOT sustain large scale housing and agricultural development until pumping technology, which allowed sufficient drinking and irrigation water to be pumped up from Lake Kasumigaura, was made available (for a reasonable price) after WWII.
The old houses in Tsukubas various traditional neighborhoods still often use well water, while the rest of us have the ODIFEROUS (though perfectly safe, especially when filtered) lake water coming out of our taps. This is why new-resident Tsukubans, whether short or long term, usually spend a pretty penny on various types of BOTTLED WATER, either from some of Japans famous springs or from abroad.
There are, however, IN THE KNOW locals who still enjoy this area`s LOCAL WATERS-very tasty, healthful and absolutely free ! There are several natural mountain springs on Mt Tsukuba and in its environs (Tsukuba City has a spring water (waki-mizu) map which has at times gotten me very lost and left me very dry!), but I prefer my LOCAL WATERS- the waters which flow out from under the little mountain (30 m) upon which the Konda Castle (maybe FORTRESS would be a better word) stood. This large hill is called TATEYAMA, and the fortification which stood there can also be referred to as TATEYAMA-JO ( jo means castle), or KOWASHIMIZU-JO ( 強清水城, The Castle of The Strong Pure Waters).
The reason this last name came into use is because of the high quality waters which used to actually gush out of the mountain on which the fortification was built ( possibly at the end of the Heian Period, in 1183). It was this same good water which irrigated the rice fields below, which is why this area came to be called KONDA (spelled 金田), or GOLDEN RICE FIELDS (see photo above). There are still legends that local people tell regarding these waters. One OBACHAN (granny) told me that in the old days it was said that the KOWASHIMIZU waters would turns into SAKE when drunk by men, and to pure waters when drunk by children.
Another woman told me that the original characters used to write the name of these waters was 子は清水 (ko wa shimizu) which means a child is like pure water. This is also the title of an old Japanese story about a good son who goes to fetch water for his old father, and in this story too, the old man`s water turns to hootch!
At the Konda springs the same pronunciation- KOWASHIMIZU- was kept, while the homophonic characters meaning STRONG PURE WATERS (強清水) were adopted since they used to be so abundant, besides being delicious and of good quality.
Though these days the water hardly gushes ( but it does flow out of a pipe at a steady rate all year round), there are still usually lines of people waiting to fill up. And they are not just armed with one container or bottle, but dozens of them at a time. Many of them use this spring for all their water needs, and have been doing so all their lives. Because of this, lining up for the KOWASHIMIZU is always a good way to meet local people and learn about the area and its customs.
As to the water itself, I dont think that anyone would deny that it is delicious and refreshing . Better in my opinion, that most bottled waters that Ive tried (one friend, after tasting it said- I would never get tired of THIS water).
And though all the old-timers who have been brought up on this water look perfectly healthy, in fact much younger than their actual ages, I still felt that I couldnt write about and recommend these waters before I knew exactly what was in them. That is why I took a sample and brought it to Dr Kuroda`s water analysis lab at Ibaraki University.
Kuroda Sensei`s finding show that the water is perfectly safe, though, he was surprised at the NO3 level which probably indicates the effects of agriculture to the west of the hill. He assured me that though this was not usual for spring water, it did not pose any health problems.
Why not try these legendary waters for yourself . To get there go down the slope past the Sakura Junior High School and turn left at the pond (which is on the right). Drive past ICHII (a soba restaurant) on your right, and Hanamasa (on your left) and continue about 5o yards north.The spring is on the eastern side of the Konda Castle Ruins, which is a densely wooded hill. A big stone lantern marks the spot.
Like I have, you might find that these waters suit you.